Hope for the Hopeless
Newspapers are full of bad news—economic uncertainties, persistent problems in Iraq, more strife and terrorism. Many Americans are pessimistic not only about our nation’s future, but their own as well. Friends are not faithful; marriages are not stable; streets are not safe. Financial struggles, job problems, health problems. Life is depressing for many people. Where does a person turn to find hope?
The only hope that has substance is found in the gospel. The gospel does not promise a charmed life filled with constant blessings, but it gives solid assurance that life is worth living, that problems are worth enduring, that the risks of life are worth taking. The gospel provides hope that there is more to life than what we can see—the invisible world is even more real than the world we see. Even the sun will eventually fade away, but spiritual realities will not.
Benefits now and forever
The gospel offers several priceless benefits right now in this life—freedom from guilt, assurance of being loved, guidance on how to live, even an understanding that we can’t rely on the things of this world. And the gospel is a dose of realism, not advertising hype. The gospel lets us in on the secret that happiness is not achieved by getting the most money, climbing the corporate ladder, or being the most popular.
Hungering for good relationships, many people live a constant charade, hoping no one ever finds out what they are really like. They are so afraid of losing friends that they never make any, because their fear of not being liked prevents anyone from knowing the “real” them.
The gospel does not guarantee us social skills and good friends (even Jesus’ friends let him down when he needed them most). But it does tell us that God loves us even when we fight against him; we can be sure that he loves us when we are trying to do right, too. There is no one too hopeless to receive the hope of Jesus Christ.
The gospel says that God sent Jesus to die even for the people who killed him. We can never do anything so bad that God will stop loving us. Even the best of friends in this world can let us down, but the gospel points us to an invisible but faithful friend, Jesus. The best in human friendships is only a foretaste of the eternal joy we will have with Jesus.
The gospel gives us hope in handling the problems of life, too. In Scripture, God gives us some amazingly practical advice on how to live. “A soft answer turns away wrath” is a remarkably effective strategy. It is a blessing, even in this life, to be humble, considerate, gracious, and grateful. The way of Jesus gives tremendous peace of mind; it is an effective antidote to anxiety, as much as we can put it into practice (sometimes we aren’t very good at it). But we have confidence in knowing that the Bible puts us on the right track.
No matter what
There is a remarkable serenity in Hebrews 13:6. This letter notes that Christians have been thrown in jail, had their possessions taken away, and were threatened with death. In the chapter on faith it notes that many of God’s people were persecuted, ridiculed, beaten and killed. And then it says, “So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ ”
Yes, what can people do to us? They can beat us, steal from us, and even kill us, but we do not need to be afraid. That’s because the great promises of the Christian faith are not in our possessions, and not even in this life—they are in the peace of God that passes understanding, and in the wonderful eternity of tomorrow. Do not fear those who can kill you, Jesus said—they cannot take away the life to come.
No one can take the prize away from us. Our true hope is not here, but in the hereafter. Yes, we might “hope” that we’ll get a raise next week, but we don’t stake our life or sanity on it. Our real hope, the confidence we can have for the future, looks far beyond next week or even next year—it looks to the next life.
The gospel not only tells us how to live—it tells us how to die, too—to die without fear, to die without regrets, to die without guilt. It offers forgiveness for sin, confidence in salvation, and peace in our relationships. We don’t always take full advantage of these, but the gospel offers them—free, because Jesus paid the price that was necessary. And when the Creator has paid the price, we know it has been paid in full.
The gospel doesn’t promise us a long life (because of persecution, some people could actually live longer if they denied the gospel), but it enables us to die with the assurance that our life had meaning, and that it will go on forever. We are willing to let go of this life because we know that a better one is waiting for us. On the other hand, we accept this life as long as we are blessed to have it, because God is using it for good. Whether we live or die, we can be confident: The Lord is our helper; we will not be afraid.
Hope for eternity
The gospel helps us in this life, but its biggest benefits are in the next. That’s because this life is temporary, no matter how good it is, and the next life is not only much better, it is without end. When Paul was on trial for his life, he said that it was “because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6; 26:6). Maybe he “hoped” to get out of jail right away, but the real hope on which he based his life and ministry was the resurrection. If there is no resurrection, then his life was a waste, and his faith futile (1 Corinthians 15:14, 17). If there is no resurrection, then we are all hopeless.
The hope on which we base our life is the resurrection—the promise of living forever with Christ in glory and joy. It is that kind of confidence in the future that allows us to make the minor sacrifices needed for us to serve other people. We don’t have to be so protective of our time, since we have an eternity ahead of us. We don’t have to be so worried about what other people think of us, when the Creator himself cares for us intensely. We need not fear, for the worst thing they can do to us is temporary. We don’t have to cling to the wealth of the world, since we are promised riches far greater.
The gospel doesn’t force us to let go of the temporary pleasures of this life, but it gently says, Those things don’t matter very much. Your life is a vapor, soon to pass away. Your pain will soon pass away. Your money is a vapor, too; you needn’t drive yourself crazy trying to make it or hang on to it. Just use it, and your life, for God’s sake. Your real hope is in the future.
A message of hope
Our hope, Paul says, is for “redemption of our bodies” at the return of Christ (Romans 8:23). And then he explains the nature of hope: “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently” (verses 24-25).
We do not yet see the glory that Christ has promised us; we do not yet experience all the blessings he will give, and that’s why we call it hope. We don’t have it yet, but we know it is certain. So we can be “joyful in hope” and “patient in affliction” (Romans 12:12).
Paul told Timothy, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17). Our hope, he said, was in eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7). The “blessed hope” is the return of Christ, when we will be given glorious, immortal bodies (Titus 2:13). “Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:13).
How do we get hope? It is “through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures” (Romans 15:4). Why can we have hope? Because of Jesus, the Root of Jesse (verse 12). “On him we have set our hope” (2 Corinthians 1:10). He is “our hope” (1 Timothy 1:1). And since we have a sure hope like that, we can be bold, confident in our eternal reward (2 Corinthians 3:12).
I pray with Paul “that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints” (Ephesians 1:18). It will be worth the wait.
We were called to a hope (Ephesians 4:4), and the gospel holds out hope (Colossians 1:23). Through the gospel, God has made known this mystery: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Part of our spiritual armor is “the hope of salvation” (1 Thessalonians 5:8). Clearly, the gospel is a message of hope—confidence in eternity because of the grace of Jesus Christ.
I will close with the words of Paul, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13). May we overflow with hope—enough to share with other people. That’s something worth thinking about.